Cultural Catchup Project: Taking a Turn in Season Four (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Taking a Turn in Season Four

July 4th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

In discussing this series of episodes as a collective whole, I am neither making a commentary on their individual merits nor suggesting that they are all working towards the same thematic purpose. Rather, as I noted in my most recent “Angel” post, I want to talk about the two-parters in their own posts, and so I’m sort of forced to lump these together to avoid going overboard with the reviews (not that you’d mind, but I do need to spread out my time). Plus, the plot moves so quickly in this series of episodes that it’s hard to really write about them individually after watching a number of them in succession: any of the positivity at the end of “Doomed” is complicated by “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa,” to the point where I need to consider the progress of the arcs as a whole rather than the individual segments.

And so before I take a brief glimpse at “A New Man” individually (since it doesn’t have much to do with these arcs, even as it intersects with them in subtle ways), I want to focus on Riley, Maggie and Adam at this important juncture of Buffy’s fourth season, where the series very quickly transitions from a pretty open-ended season structure to a clear, objective-driven protagonist/antagonist structure, albeit one which remains complex (although perhaps not as complex as I might have liked).

Riley

If there’s one consequence of the responses to early posts on Buffy’s fourth season that has really affected the way I am watching the series, it’s the negative responses to Riley as a character. I’m constantly on edge waiting for that moment where Riley does something horrible that would cause me to turn on the character, and so far I haven’t found it (we’ll get to the two-parter during the week, but spoiler: I didn’t find it there either). It isn’t that Riley is perfect, or that I really care about his romantic future with Buffy, but rather that I find the character has grown suitably complicated enough as it relates to key issues to the season’s themes. I love the notion that the Initiative is just a job for Riley, and that he never asked any questions: the scenes of Buffy integrating into the Initiative and proving infinitely more inquisitive than anyone else are sort of played for comedy, but it presents Buffy and Riley (who the latter tries to claim are kindred spirits with more in common than they could have ever imagined) as two very different kinds of demon hunters, which nicely extends the divide between the two groups into their new relationship (which “Doomed” established as a real relationship, after the initial awkwardness from “Hush” settled).

And while I’ll agree that Riley is still not the most dynamic character in the world, I thought that “Goodbye Iowa” did a good job of making his position within the story quite dynamic. The idea that Buffy is beholden to destiny was an early theme within the series, and so Riley being beholden to the drug regiment which (more than any sort of innate ability) turned him into a soldier makes for a compelling parallel. To some degree I worry that the parallels are piling up too quickly, and that the “Riley = Buffy” side of things will become repetitive (or worse, redundant) in the episodes ahead, but for now I think it justifies adding Blucas to the title credits (which happens in “Doomed,” I believe). He does some unfortunate things while trapped in withdrawl in “…Iowa,” but I thought Blucas handled the character’s struggles quite effectively, and I think it’s meaningful that we sort of end up following Riley’s arc independent of Buffy for a while. While Buffy is obviously central to his concerns (both in terms of doubting the Initiative in “The I in Team” after Walsh is trapped in her lie about Buffy being murdered and in terms of his withdrawl combining with his concern that Buffy was responsible for Walsh’s death), the character has a history all his own now, and I’m interesting to see how that informs the character’s arc moving forward.

Maggie Walsh

Lindsay Crouse is an Oscar-nominated actress, but Maggie Walsh is a pretty insignificant role in the grand scheme of things: while the character is functional (in terms of providing a bridge between Buffy and Riley in her role as professor, as well as providing a figurehead for the Initiative, the character’s arc is entirely one-sided. Her death has great meaning, considering how she is turned into a psychotic scapegoat for the Initiative’s leadership and how much her death affects Riley, but her life was so undefined that there really isn’t much for me to say about her. We learned more about her opinion on Riley and her motivations as part of the Initiative in her final scenes than we did in her entire run on the show, as she spent so much time as a hard-nosed Psychology professor that we have no information to go on. We learn after her death that she was particularly protective of Riley out of her “children,” and that this sort of maternal perversion extended to the monstrous Adam (more on him in a moment), but it’s not as if we really get to see that play out ahead of her tragic end.

“The I in Team” very much depends on our willingness to accept that Walsh would so quickly have Buffy killed, and at that point I knew so little about her character that I didn’t entirely buy it. It’s one thing to know that she was harbouring some sort of secret (that’s been apparent for a long while), or that she’s willing to do whatever it takes. However, there was no desperation in her response, Riley’s brief questions about 314 very quickly translating into “we need to kill Buffy” without much provocation. The confusion surrounding Maggie’s actions allows for Riley’s psychological turmoil in “Goodbye Iowa,” of course, but it makes this feel less like an arc and more like a plot point coming to an end. Maggie was a vessel, a way to get Riley and Buffy together and then useless once a new threat emerged. I don’t know if it’s an issue with money or time on Crouse’s end, but it seemed as if they needed to give us more with Maggie in the episodes leading up to that decision so that she didn’t seem quite so transient. Perhaps that’s the point of the character: after all, very few people remember that Frankenstein isn’t actually the name of the monster but rather the name of the doctor who created it, so she becomes yet another mad scientist likely to be forgotten in the wake of her creation. However, whatever meaning we get from that fails to really make these episodes resonate on a character-level, playing out instead as the plot wheels turning in an entertaining, but somewhat cold, fashion.

Adam

I haven’t really put considerable thought into it, but I’m pretty sure that Adam is the first element of Buffy which really suffers in comparison to more recent television series. I completely see what Adam represents, and I even like some of the ideas it raises, but Battlestar Galactica went so far into questions of human/Other identity in light of species confusion that there is something about Adam that I just can’t take seriously. I don’t know if it’s that the character literally wears his trifecta of identities on his sleeve (and face, and chest, etc.), or the way the character is a sort of brooding philosoph, but the way in which the character has been designed is attacking themes of identity with a jackhammer as opposed to a chisel. From the moment he wakes up, the character exists in this form, and so it’s not as if we have any backstory for his identity crisis or any insight into his creation. Rather, he is an all-powerful evil monster who happens to be searching for the answers of the universe by flaying whatever poor souls (or soulless demons) that he comes across (there’s no specific for it, but I’m sure some electronics have also been victims of his rampage). It’s not as if his search for an identity is developing a more interesting character: instead, it’s a thematic translator, capable of putting in disks in order to spout out some exposition when it’s needed, which feels like a poor replacement for Walsh (who, in her personal relationship with Buffy, was a more intriguing antagonist).

I see how Adam and Riley are very much alike, and that in some ways Adam helps to make Riley’s situation more complex (in that he sits somewhere between Maggie’s monster and a real human being), but I think it’s an issue of how much the show seems to be throwing out by introducing the character. This section of episodes robs the season of the ambiguity which so perfectly suited the arrival of a neutered Spike into the narrative, replacing a complex antagonistic organization with unclear motivations into the source of an unspeakable evil who needs to be neutralized immediately. It may have made the beginning of the season a bit tough to take at times, but the lack of a clear “evil” in this season has helped capture the uncertainty of starting over in college, and so to see it all come together and move in a new direction quite so quickly means that there will inevitably be some narrative whiplash. I think Adam is the definitive example of this, a plot development which makes sense but doesn’t feel like a natural progression of much of anything.

Everyone Else

However, the important thing is that the long-term character arcs are still in good shape, and for the most part I’d say that things are looking pretty good. Spike continues to try to separate himself from Buffy and the Scooby Gang while still relying on them in order to save his life (as “Hostile 17” has popped back on the Initiative’s radar), Xander continues to be quite happy with Anya, and Willow and Tara’s relationship continues to evolve (with some nice subtlety – really enjoyed Tara’s sabotage of the spell in “Goodbye Iowa” and the way in which Willow begins to resent Buffy’s interest in the Initiative and how it’s changing their group dynamics. “Doomed” captures much of that quite nicely, as Willow and Xander struggle to find a place for themselves within Buffy’s work and take a trip back to high school to put their lives into perspective (what with Percy’s “nerd squad” comments).

What I like about “A New Man” is how it captures Giles’ own sort of stasis within this particular world, giving us the first real Giles showcase of the season and an important episode (I gather) for Giles going forward. It’s too early to really comment on his season’s arc right now, but the episode raises an important question about what Giles’ role is now that Buffy is no longer affiliated with the Watcher’s Council. He’s unquestionably helpful, but to be left out of the loop regarding Riley’s affiliation with the Initiative is a sign that he is now a resource more than an advisor, a database of information as opposed to someone who Buffy relies on to help her get through tough situations. Giles has been drifting all season, something which has remained largely below the surface of each episode’s narrative, and so to see that come to the surface in Giles’ frustrations (and his susceptibility to Ethan’s nefarious doings) is a great way to force us to keep that in mind going forward. Plus, frankly, anything that pairs Spike and Giles is going to be to our advantage, and Spike’s desire for money and Giles’ desire for assistance was as great as one would presume: throw in Giles’ fantastic terrorizing of Walsh, and you’ve got a fun episode that will likely become more meaningful as the season (or even the series) moves forward.

Ultimately, though, I’m reserving judgment on a lot of this: while I do think that Walsh is dumped too soon, and that Buffy enters and then exits the Initiative at such a breakneck pace that it leaves all sorts of potential on the table, a dramatic mid-season twist like this very much depends on where things go from here. And while I find Adam less than subtle, I like where they’re taking Riley, and as I’ll get to early in the week there’s a lot to like about the two-parter which follow…perhaps because it ignores the basic ramifications of these twists and delves into the show’s past with these themes instead.

Cultural Observations

  • I really like the notion that the Initiative thought that the Slayer was a “myth,” a story demon parents used to scare their children – those sorts of nuances were one of the many areas where Buffy’s relationship with the Initiative could have been given more time to play out, but I still liked it as a small detail.
  • I understand that the scarf ends up being tremendously meaningful as it helps Riley get through his time in the hospital, but I ended up getting really distracted by what a bizarre fashion choice it was for Buffy, and so it made sense that it was a necessary plot tool rather than an aesthetic statement.
  • I remain very, very confused about the military’s role in terms of the Initiative: they seem to imply that Walsh was the corrupt one, but the Doctor was clearly in on it as well, so there’s a good chance this project ran deeper than just her own research. The lack of any command structure has helped keep the season focused on the characters, but it’s raised questions that I think the show needs to at least play towards addressing soon – we get that Riley didn’t ask questions before, but we did, and we could use some answers.
  • If there’s a Buffy fan out there who hasn’t seen Battlestar Galactica, do check it out: there were a lot of elements to the Adam/Riley storylines in “Goodbye Iowa” that really spoke to some of the questions regarding Cylon identity in that series, and BSG follows through on those ideas in a way that this storyline is clearly not interested in.
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120 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

120 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Taking a Turn in Season Four (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Cameron

    Interesting. You nailed the abrupt ending of Maggie Walsh without knowing the behind-the-scenes circumstances that required the character’s death and the necessary creation of a new villain. It was always my biggest issue with Season 4.

    Excited to hear your thoughts on the two-parters. 🙂

    • Austin

      what are those behind the scenes issues? i am not aware of them.

      • Susan

        Huh. Yeah, I’d heard/read somewhere that Maggie getting killed by her own creation was the plan all along (more screaming “subtlety” there).

        • Danny

          The only thing I sort of heard about was the fact that getting such a big named actress for the part meant they only had her for a handful of episodes, and they had to work around that. Not exactly major “behind the scenes issues” though, and the overarching plan was, AFAIK, to have Adam kill her all along.

  2. Susan

    So, the introduction of Adam is where S4 falls apart for me. I’ve always ranked this as one of the worst Buffy seasons overall, and during your project, Myles, I’ve been thinking a lot about why. There are many great episodes in the season–lots of favorites–and Adam actually appears in comparatively few. Even after his introduction we have the wonderful “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You,” and the strong “The Yoko Factor.” And yet.

    It’s a testament to the anvilness of that character and arc that those few episodes leave such a bad taste behind. I hate everything about him, beginning with his design. Yes, we get it. Yes, he’s a new breed of Frankenstein. Whatever. Geez. Obvious much?

    I’m resisting temptation to write more about the Adam and Riley, since it’s all spoilers all the time.

    I’ll end with a note that I’m a huge fan of BSG (I expect many Whedonites are), but having first seen Buffy, Angel, and BSG as they aired, a comparison between Adam and the Cylons didn’t occur to me in retrospect. Thinking about now, though, you’re right. Whoosh, BSG did that better.

    • Susan

      Or, to be correct, a new breed of Frankenstein’s monster. And I call myself a lit professor. /facepalm

    • It’s a shame the season fell apart for you after this point Susan. I agree that the primary plot arc largely falls apart at this point, but there’s a lot more to a season than its plot. The two parter is excellent, “New Moon Rising” is has a wicked smart script, “The Yoko Factor” utilizes the build-up of the season quite well, “Primeval” is flawed but quite a bit of fun to watch, and “Restless” is a masterpiece. All that just doesn’t scream “falling apart” to me. All imo, naturally. 🙂

      • Susan

        I forgot to mention “Restless,” which is indeed a masterpiece. “New Moon Rising” is really good, too. And I definitely agree that the whole series is about characters first, plot second.

        But the Adam arc is so badly executed, IMO, and I have such a strong negative reaction to it, that it somehow taints my experience of the whole season.

        Problems that start percolating when Adam stabs Maggie come to full boil in “Primeval.” There’s good stuff in that ep, yes, but there are some key “you have got to be kidding me” moments that infuriate me. The series deserves better.

        And I’d better shut up now.

        • Oh, I totally agree with you on those “moments.” I actually agreed with you more overall on my earlier passes through the season. But on recent re-watches I’ve come to notice how little I actually care about the scarce plot and how completely amazing and important the character work is. The poor plot certainly puts a dink in the season, but it doesn’t derail it imo. It’s still a really really good season of television, just not quite up to the standards of the other seasons of Buffy as a whole (with the exception of S1 and perhaps S7).

  3. Eldritch

    “I’m constantly on edge waiting for that moment where Riley does something horrible…”

    I think the issue is more a romantic one than anything horrible he does. Being male, I’m not speaking for many fans on the issue, but they’re kind of a mismatch. He’s not her equal, which if their romance continues, would essentially make him a more competent Xander.

    But his most grievous sin is that he’s dull. Consider Angel’s charisma. Even the rat-like Parker character holds his own with her on screen better than Riley.

    • Where do you live, Eldritch? If we’re close to each other, I want to get together so that we can argue out all our differences. Loudly 🙂

      I’m mostly kidding. Unless you happen to be in central Texas.

      • Eldritch

        Right. I’d love to discuss loudly, too. I grew up in Oklahoma City, but now I live in California. Pity. 😉

      • Mel

        voluntarymanslaughter, lets be best friends! except I’m in DC. but catching up on CCP after vacation, I find that you said the things I wanted to say after reading the latest slew of posts (which makes it easier on me, I don’t have to type as much)

    • Mel

      I disagree with your opinion of Riley (I don’t think he’s dull or lacking charisma, I find him charming) but based on the reactions I’ve seen from most fans, I think that you are speaking for the anti-Riley crowd in the second paragraph (not sure about the first–in what way, other than physically once the drugs are kicked, is he not her equal?)

  4. Witnessaria

    I’ve always liked Riley and appreciated his point of view, even while he was never a favorite of mine. I’d address why I think opinions, both positive and negative, toward him came about, but it would be major spoilery. You’ll just have to follow it through and see what you think. I will say it’s not necessarily any one thing he did or didn’t do, but more his overall position in the future story IMO.
    Yeah, Adam didn’t work so well for me, but because his villainy leads to the last three excellent eps of this season, I will forgive much.
    How did you like the tag of Doomed? Let’s fight that evil!

  5. Eldritch

    ” However, there was no desperation in her response, Riley’s brief questions about 314 very quickly translating into “we need to kill Buffy” without much provocation.”

    I think it was a bit more than that. Walsh heard Buffy ask about 314 on the secret monitor. That made Buffy a direct danger. However, worse than that, Buffy was corrupting Riley, as demonstrated by his loitering around 314’s doorway. Not only was he Walsh’s protégé but she thought of him as a son. She just couldn’t allow Buffy to corrupt a person so important to her in so many ways. And in that mix, I also felt a bit of a mother jealous of her son’s girlfriend stealing him away.

    • Witnessaria

      Agreed. But it did feel fast to me. Or rather, I felt there was a contradiction between how quickly Walsh invited Buffy into her secret organization, just to turn around immediately and try to have her killed. Why let her so far inside in the first place? Excellent reveal for Riley though.

      • Eldritch

        Agreed. It was fast.

        • Jason

          You let her inside to know if you have to kill her. This seems simple to me. Big plans require swift and effective counter-measures. Fast, yes. Wrong, I’m not convinced. I’m with you Eldritch

  6. Once again, a solid analysis Myles. Thanks as usual for the fun read. 🙂

    I completely agree with your complaint about killing off Maggie too quickly. That was one of the biggest missteps of the season plot-wise, even if from what I hear it what somewhat beyond their control. Between Seth and Lindsay, the writing staff really had some back luck this season. Fortunately the season holds together excellently character-wise despite a plot that ends up flailing around a bit moving forward.

    I’m so, so very happy to see you looking deeper into Riley’s character than most do. Count me as a fan who really liked Riley and found both his individual arc and his relationship with Buffy well done and important in the long term scheme of things. Imo, you won’t find a moment where Riley “jumps the shark.” He’s quite consistently characterized.

    I’ve seen all of Battlestar Galactica, and while I did find it to occasionally have some interesting themes and plots, I mostly found it seriously lacking on a character level after the middle of S2 — it kind of went off the rails (“Epiphanies,” “Black Market,” and the one year hop over a bunch of really important stuff, for starters) in terms of character for me and never recovered. By the middle of S3 I had no emotional attachment to any of the characters anymore outside of maybe Tigh. That’s a show where the characters always felt like slaves to the (plot and) themes rather than it being a natural symbiotic relationship like it is in Buffy. The *plot* in Buffy is almost always there to service the characters, not the other way around. I still miss the character driven military drama BSG was in S1. Ack, a bit off topic now, but I just find BSG to be extremely overrated although I admit that a lot of it just boils down to personal preference.

    With all that said, I still agree with you about Adam. There’s a little bit of interesting stuff there, but it’s really nothing special.

    The final thing I’d like to bring attention to is a conversation that Giles has with Maggie Walsh over Buffy in “A New Man.” Giles says “I think it’s best if we let a young person find their own strengths. If you lead a child by the hand then they’ll never find their own footing.” Maggie, of course, has an opposing view. So I don’t get into spoiler territory, just make note that Giles’ opinion here is quite important to remember moving forward.

    • Beth

      I completely agree with you mikejer (even about Battlestar Galactica – I was trying to put a finger on why I stopped caring after season 2). Sometimes when I read comments or boards I feel like I’m in a very small freak club for liking Season 4 or Riley. And while I understand that the plot wasn’t the best throughout the season, I still only watch my shows one episode at a time and if I like that episode and it’s well done and engaging and has good character work – well, I can’t really complain too much. So I hate that Myles has to go into Season 4 with all this baggage about Riley and the arc, and who knows, he may end up finding the season one of the weakest as many do, but it’s a shame. Don’t kill me – just my opinion! I am fully aware that I am in the minority. 😀

      • Gill

        Let’s face it, Riley suffers from being the filling in the sandwich between rather more interesting romantic elements. I find him a bit dull, but Blucas is very competent, and the character doesn’t deserve the hatred that was poured on him. There was even a website called “dierileydie”!

        • Beth: Despite the fact I feel S4 is a very good season of television, it still ranks as one of the weaker seasons of the show because all the elements in the season just didn’t come together. It’s not bad at all, it’s more that its competition is just that good. For me, S4 is probably the weakest season outside of S1 and maybe S7. But there’s still a whole lot to love about it. Then again, this is coming from a guy who feels the entire series is brilliant after S1, right up until the end (which isn’t a popular opinion either).

          Gill: Personally I don’t really find Riley to be that dull. He’s certainly a doof (at least in S4), but I found his arc compelling and felt it was actually quite refreshing to have a mostly normal guy from the midwest on the show. He’s a pretty nice guy and I, personally, have quite a bit of sympathy for him. He evolves quite nicely this season actually.

          • Beth

            True – it’s not my favorite season, but I still like it a heck of a lot. What I meant is that sometimes people equate “not my/your favorite season” to “weak season”, which I certainly don’t think this is, not even in relationship with other Buffy seasons (to me). Yes, there are some that are “stronger” or I like better, but I don’t equate that as meaning S4 is a lesser season. I don’t even know if I’m making sense. Heh.

          • No, I get what you’re saying. I do think S4 is tangibly a little weaker than most of the other seasons, but I largely agree with you nonetheless.

          • Jason

            I completely agree with you about Riley. I really like his character. Unfortunately, he suffers from a bad case of ‘notangel’ and I think a lot of people hate him as a result of this.

  7. AO

    I too enjoyed how the “Initiative thought that the Slayer was a ‘myth’”. Little details like that can often improve an Episode.

    As for BSG, I am assume that you’re speaking of the reboot as opposed to the original? I watched the mini-series that began the reboot when it first aired, and did like some aspects of it, but I couldn’t keep myself from focusing on the differences between the new version vs. the old. Perhaps I’m missing out by not watching it, but I don’t see how I would enjoy it if my primary focus is how it differs from the earlier version. Ah well.

  8. AO

    Riley.

    In my experience, what most people most object to in his character is still to come, but for me it’s now happened. This is solely my opinion, based on my life experience and values, and I can understand and respect that others feel differently. My opinion is in not any way affected by my “shipping” or “preferring” one of Buffy’s other romantic partners. I have done my best not to attack anyone else for their opinion and hope that anyone who continues to read and decides to reply will be respectful of mine as well.

    As I’ve said before, up to this point I’ve found Riley to be uncharismatic and unintelligent, and not much else. But for a very brief time, after Walsh had attempted to murder Buffy, I was rooting for him as strongly as I could. His supporters often cite that he loves Buffy more than she does him, that he’s loyal and faithful. After she told him what happened to her, I was dearly wishing (as I have at few other times in the Series) for him to prove them right.

    There are few times in the show when Buffy truly needs a man. She doesn’t need a guy for many of the usual reasons, because he’s stronger, or rich, or to boost her self-confidence. What she does need imo is someone who will love her for herself, someone to respect her and believe in her.

    In my personal life, I have seen a lot of what are called “fair-weather” friends (and family), and have very little respect for those people who will only be there for you when it’s easy or convenient for them. The true measure of a friend, partner, or love imo is someone who will stand by and believe in you even when it is difficult. That’s how I live my life, and maybe I’m missing something, but that’s what I expect and respect in others.

    When Buffy truly needed Riley, after she had been almost been murdered, then he ran. Even if he had his doubts or reservations then he might have seen how shaken Buffy was, comforted her then, and sought to address those doubts later. I honestly thought that he would step up at that moment, I genuinely believed that after going on about how much he loved Buffy, that he did. I cannot in any way, shape or form reconcile the idea that he loved her, but only when it was easy. When he should have wanted nothing more than to comfort her (imo), he ran away. I’m someone who almost never sees any situation as black and white, but I can’t help but see this sequence in any other way. I was absolutely furious at his character, in a way that I never felt about anyone else in the Series from the beginning to the end.

    From this point on, I couldn’t see their relationship in any way other than being doomed to failure. When the event(s) came later, that many of his other detractors point to, I was not surprised, not even an iota. I know that a lot of other people seem okay, or mostly okay, with his running away from Buffy in this rare moment when she truly needed him, but I never will be.

    • Oooh. I have so much to say in response to this.

      AO, you and I briefly discussed this earlier, and I honestly thought that you were talking about that thing that happens later in Riley’s arc.

      Riley has been conditioned to live in a particular worldview. He’s in the military (or its equivalent). He believes that his superiors will make the correct decision, and he believes that, by following orders, he is also doing the right thing.

      It is very, very hard to break out of that kind of conditioning. I actually admire Riley for breaking free of the Initiative as quickly as he does. He has to turn against everything he’s devoted his life to. As he says to Buffy, “Who am I without that?” (or something along those lines).

      I don’t see Riley as a fair-weather-friend. I see him as someone who was willing to turn away from everything he’d ever believed in, for his entire life, because someone came into his world and showed him that it wasn’t true. To me, that takes a lot of character and personal strength.

      And you’re annoyed b/c he wasn’t 100% there for a person he’s only known for a few months? Oh, boo hoo, Buffy was almost murdered. She almost dies in practically every ep. It’s not like she was majorly traumatized or anything. I just don’t think that “love” is the same thing as “and now I completely get your perspective and you’re totally right and I will now fight against the people I think of as my family!”

      Full disclosure: as a recovering evangelical, I identify far too much with Riley’s journey 🙂

      But seriously, AO, what did you want him to do? Spit on Professor Walsh’s corpse as they carry it past him?

      • AO

        “AO, you and I briefly discussed this earlier, and I honestly thought that you were talking about that thing that happens later in Riley’s arc.”

        Yeah, I do wish that I could have clarified, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spoil Myles on that plot point and I couldn’t think of an easy way to refer to this one, especially not in a way that properly explained my position.

        “Riley has been conditioned to live in a particular worldview. He’s in the military (or its equivalent). He believes that his superiors will make the correct decision, and he believes that, by following orders, he is also doing the right thing.”

        I can understand your point, but it is particularly difficult for me to look at him in that way, as the concept that someone would think this way is completely foreign to me. I realized that nobody is perfect, or makes the right decision all of the time, well before I was 4. I do my best to understand from a theoretical perspective that there are people who might think differently on something like that, but it’s very hard for me to wrap my head around. And it seems to me to come down to the ability to think for yourself. If he’s not able to think for himself, or just hasn’t been because it’s “easier” to let others think for him, then I have a lot of trouble respecting that argument. If there’s another explanation then I’m open to hearing it, but this is an extremely tough concept for me to understand.

        “It is very, very hard to break out of that kind of conditioning. “

        Again, my experience is completely the opposite. It seems (and I’m not trying to be prejudicial, just trying to comprehend this sort of position) that he’s incapable of thinking for himself. Would that be accurate? If not, what would be? Is it because he’s brainwashed? Unable or unwilling to think for himself? Or is it something else?

        “I don’t see Riley as a fair-weather-friend. I see him as someone who was willing to turn away from everything he’d ever believed in, for his entire life, because someone came into his world and showed him that it wasn’t true. To me, that takes a lot of character and personal strength.”

        In theory I can see some circumstances where I might agree with you, but in this specific situation I don’t. He put himself first by leaving until he had sorted things out until he was comfortable enough to make a decision. Imo, if he truly loved her then he should have figured it out before this, and been willing to put her first, if/when the time came.

        “And you’re annoyed b/c he wasn’t 100% there for a person he’s only known for a few months?”

        How long should it take him to figure out whether or not he’s in love with her? Men are usually decisive, I have trouble believing that he was on a 2 or 4 year plan for falling in love. Generally speaking, guys make that decision pretty quickly in my experience.

        “Oh, boo hoo, Buffy was almost murdered. She almost dies in practically every ep. It’s not like she was majorly traumatized or anything. “

        I felt that she was pretty shaken up. It’s one thing for her to have Vamps, Demons, or other creatures of evil trying to kill you, imo it’s something else to have fellow human beings representing the U.S. military, led by a professor that she seemed to be developing respect for, try to kill her. If your argument is that Riley was so blinded by how infallible the military was supposed to be, and had so much difficulty breaking from them, then perhaps Buffy was also quite shaken when Walsh turned on her.

        “I just don’t think that “love” is the same thing as “and now I completely get your perspective and you’re totally right and I will now fight against the people I think of as my family!”

        It’s not, but imo it IS respecting the other person as much as yourself. I will love you, until it’s inconvenient, at which point I may still decide to love you (or not), but I’ll take as long as needed to think it over , is completely worthless imo.

        Full disclosure: as a recovering evangelical, I identify far too much with Riley’s journey

        Okay, as I’ve said, my position is close to 180 degrees away. But I do hope that you don’t take anything I’ve said personally, I’m only trying to argue against some of your positions.

        “But seriously, AO, what did you want him to do? Spit on Professor Walsh’s corpse as they carry it past him?”

        I wanted him to have figured out already what his feelings for Buffy were, and to have been ready to follow through. If he never cared much about her then that’s fine, but he shouldn’t have pretended to. And not run off. I can’t help but see that as very cowardly. If he was on a patrol and one of his buddies had a limb blown or ripped off, then would he have run off for as long as it took for him to work through how hard it was for him? In life anything can happen, and you have to be prepared to react immediately.

        • KokoBuffs

          AO, I have much to say to this and I’ll come back to it later, as I’m really short on time. So I’ll just take this piece here :

          “If your argument is that Riley was so blinded by how infallible the military was supposed to be, and had so much difficulty breaking from them, then perhaps Buffy was also quite shaken when Walsh turned on her.”

          You equate these two notions as if BOTH are just musings imposed upon by the viewer and/or that can not be known from what we’ve been given in the series. That is not the case.

          The difference is that voluntarymanslaughter’s point here, specificially, has complete basis in the text. With Buffy/Angel, it is really important (for analysis at least) to not let your personal experiences as a viewer TAKE OVER what you’re seeing on the screen. I’m not saying you have to agree with the perspective the show is presenting, just that you should recognize it for what it is and respond accordingly.

          I don’t have enough time to go into why Riley’s entire arc here is indicating that yes, him being shell-shocked by his world-falling apart, in no small part related to the fact that everything he thought about what was right and who to trust, “who the good guys are and who the bad guys are” and thus calling into question his own place in this world and life choices, is all over the text. Not to mention a recurring theme–“Lie to Me,” “Pangs” as two examples.

          And that particular dilemma is presented as a pretty big deal, one worthy of watching characters not knowing how to react right away, or do the “right” thing right away, or…well, my focus is on this right away thing, clearly.

          At this point, it’s open to debate whether personally, we feel that is a justifiable or sympathetic excuse for not being at your best*–as a friend or a lover–in this or any other situation, but not whether it’s a factor in Riley’s behavior in the text.

          Whereas, the notion that Buffy could have been traumatized by Maggie Walsh trying to kill her is humanly true, or even that she is shaken up to some extent is certainly likely. However, the narrative REALITY that this event has shaken up Buffy more than it has Riley is not borne out in either text, subtext, or themes of the show.

          In fact, since this judgment is based on what Riley as a character should have done, and the connections he’s made, I’d say that it’s more like Riley, at worst then like most of the characters, take for granted that Buffy is like, a superhero, strong, tough, and though she’s a girl, he sees that she can take care of herself physically. Considering he’s killed what– like 15 HST’s and he knows that she’s killed oh, at least maybe 4 or 5 a week for 3 years, and with the snake, and the apocalypses…maybe, he’s not making the connection that two monsters, who she apparantly killed without a scratch on her really rankled her. Or that Maggie being the one to set it up, would be traumatizing cause she’s human, or because she had such a rich history, connection, or tie to Maggie that she would be expected to be the one needing support over this betrayal–oh wait, no that’s…

          Anyway, I’m really just playing devil’s advocate with the “at worst” part…simply, Riley’s first thing he sees is a strong, tough-ass chick, on the telly–confidently telling Maggie, basically, Isn’t that cute? So you tried to kill me? You think that’s gonna stop me? I’ve taken on more than you. You’re nothing. Please, If this is all you got, “You REALLY don’t know what a Slayer is.” Strong, confident, even menacing.

          Hmm, I’ll even give kudos to Riley for seeing her as a threat, rather than a girl to protect here.

          *I must say, if this is the line you draw in the sand, *************SPOILERY, sorta*****************you must REALLY hate Buffy (the girl, not the show) *********************END SPOILERYness.

          See, AO, now I’m late and in trouble–this was supposed to be a quick comment, I blame you completely, lol–just kidding. Gotta run!

          • I appreciate the validation that my perspective is textual!

            But in fairness I have to point out that I think I AM letting my personal experiences take over! 🙂

          • KokoBuffs

            I appreciate the validation that my perspective is textual!

            But in fairness I have to point out that I think I AM letting my personal experiences take over!

            I understand, but it’s not really your entire perspective I’m defending…actually, I’m not even defending you per se…merely hijacking a reference to one of your points to make one of my own, LOL. . I don’t share the same background as you, nor your motivations…You could be a soulless demon hell-bent on supporting and defending people named Riley everywhere… doesn’t make your take on Riley Finn’s development at this point, in this case, any less contextually accurate and relevant to the critical analysis of the character. Coincidence? Pact with the devil? Who knows, it is what it is.

            FYI, I connect with certain aspects of Buffy’s character and issues to a large extent so it’s pretty difficult to find her unsympthetic (which, btw, is not the same as saying difficult to find her in the wrong) So when I’m saying we have to be careful, in critical analysis, about letting it obstruct or blind us from what’s being presented, I don’t mean to exclude myself.

            If my sympathy and understanding of Buffy’s pain or plight makes me unable to see other character’s perspective that’s being presented in the text, then that’s when the personal has “taken over” the text. Totally my perogative, of course. But if I start creating backstory or motivations that don’t work textually and/or thematically in the course of critical debate, I know I’ll be called out on those points. Sometimes it will help me refine my own point, sometimes it will help me see a different view, and sometimes, I’ll concede that it really is just personal. And that’s ok.

            So really, I hope I was clear, AO, that I’m not telling you or anyone else how you should feel, engage, or respond on a personal level. Ok,the babble ends now.

            p.s. Sigh. So many words to say so little. Apologies. Concise takes so much work. I write to think… At least I’m writing, this is good for me, believe me 🙂

          • AO

            “You equate these two notions as if BOTH are just musings imposed upon by the viewer and/or that can not be known from what we’ve been given in the series. That is not the case.”

            I know that that is not the case. What I meant there was that “If Voluntarymanslaughter was using the argument that Riley was so blinded by how infallible the military was supposed to be“, which I wasn’t disputing, then “perhaps” (and I really did mean the perhaps. It was one line of thought and I do wish that I had looked to develop it a bit more, but it was pretty late and my computer was running slow, so I left it a genuine “perhaps”) Buffy was also quite shaken. Was Buffy shaken over the long term? No, I wouldn’t say so. This clearly wasn’t an event that she carried with her several Seasons from now, and I wasn’t trying to suggest that it was. My apologies that that wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

            “With Buffy/Angel, it is really important (for analysis at least) to not let your personal experiences as a viewer TAKE OVER what you’re seeing on the screen. I’m not saying you have to agree with the perspective the show is presenting, just that you should recognize it for what it is and respond accordingly.”

            I would agree that ideally that’s something that I should try to do more of. Though I’d like to point out that I tried to be candid that I was doing this in the very first paragraph that I wrote that started this sub-discussion. I wrote, “This is solely my opinion, based on my life experience and values”. Generally speaking, I think that I do a good job of not letting my personal experience take over when it comes to this show. As an example, I don’t get terribly worked up by most of the characters/events in S5-7 that often aggravate others. But I really do have a valid reason (imo) for feeling so strongly about this. And I’m not trying to convert anyone else to my way of thinking, just trying to explain it.

            “I don’t have enough time to go into why Riley’s entire arc here is indicating that yes, him being shell-shocked by his world-falling apart, in no small part related to the fact that everything he thought about what was right and who to trust, “who the good guys are and who the bad guys are” and thus calling into question his own place in this world and life choices, is all over the text. Not to mention a recurring theme–”Lie to Me,” “Pangs” as two examples.”

            I’m sure that you’re right, the text does seem to support that. But I can’t help but look at the situation through my experiences. As I said earlier, I had to think this way by the time I was 4, and so hearing about hard it was for him in his early 20’s is like hearing that he was still trying to figure out toilet training. Rightly or wrongly, I just can’t relate.

            “Whereas, the notion that Buffy could have been traumatized by Maggie Walsh trying to kill her is humanly true, or even that she is shaken up to some extent is certainly likely.”

            Thank you.

            “However, the narrative REALITY that this event has shaken up Buffy more than it has Riley is not borne out in either text, subtext, or themes of the show.”

            I wasn’t trying to suggest that she was more shaken than he was, so I would agree.

            “In fact, since this judgment is based on what Riley as a character should have done, and the connections he’s made, I’d say that it’s more like Riley, at worst then like most of the characters, take for granted that Buffy is like, a superhero, strong, tough, and though she’s a girl, he sees that she can take care of herself physically. Considering he’s killed what– like 15 HST’s and he knows that she’s killed oh, at least maybe 4 or 5 a week for 3 years, and with the snake, and the apocalypses…maybe, he’s not making the connection that two monsters, who she apparantly killed without a scratch on her really rankled her. Or that Maggie being the one to set it up, would be traumatizing cause she’s human”

            I can agree with this interpretation. It’s difficult for me to get my head around the fact that he really is so dense, but that is what the text supports (as you would say).

            “because she had such a rich history, connection, or tie to Maggie that she would be expected to be the one needing support over this betrayal–oh wait, no that’s…”

            I never suggested that she had a rich history with Walsh, and it truly is hard for me to comprehend that Riley was so completely and utterly oblivious that even after being with Walsh for as long as he was, then he had ZERO clue as to anything that was really going on. If we’re supposed to believe that, which it seems that we are, then how are we supposed to have any respect for him?

            “Hmm, I’ll even give kudos to Riley for seeing her as a threat, rather than a girl to protect here.”

            You’re of course free to think that way if you like.

            As I’ve said, my respect goes to those who can keep their wits about them when major events happen, rather than those who go running off because they can’t handle a situation.

            I’m not sure why I would hate Buffy, at least at this point in the show?

          • AO

            KokoBuffs,

            I didn’t get the sense that you were telling me how I “should feel, engage, or respond on a personal level”. We’re okay as far as I’m concerned, but thanks for asking.

        • Denita

          I can understand your point, but it is particularly difficult for me to look at him in that way, as the concept that someone would think this way is completely foreign to me.

          Have you never seen a movie about the military? No war movies? I find it hard to believe that you don’t understand this concept.

          • AO

            I have seen a few war movies. It’s one thing when someone is following legitimate orders, but it’s another when they’re following orders that they shouldn’t be. In the abstract I know that that’s not how it really works, but I can’t understand it that people are so devoted to an organizational structure that they would relinquish their ability to think for themselves. I have never believed in, or had faith in, any organization greater than the individual. We’re all people, all equal imo.

        • No offense taken whatsoever. I think this is a fascinating conversation. I know that many people think Riley is boring; I’ve never considered whether he isn’t actually living up to being a good boyfriend in Season 4.

          I still disagree with practically everything you’ve said, but I understand why you approach the character the way you do.

          “And it seems to me to come down to the ability to think for yourself. If he’s not able to think for himself, or just hasn’t been because it’s “easier” to let others think for him, then I have a lot of trouble respecting that argument.”

          If you started thinking for yourself before you were 4, then that is awesome emotionally healthy and I’m impressed. I’m REALLY not trying to talk about religion here, but I was 20 before I realized that my church (and by extension my parents) weren’t always right. (You have just instantly lost respect for me. That’s okay.) It wasn’t because I’m stupid, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t capable of thinking for myself. The trick is that you get — brainwashed is too strong a word — conditioned? — to think that you HAVE thought things through, and YOU are making the decision to ally yourself with this worldview, because YOU have decided that it’s correct and virtuous and fundamentally, objectively morally right.

          It’s not that it’s “easier” not to think for yourself. It’s that you sincerely believe in the system, and your own place in it.

          I don’t have a better way to explain it. And I totally understand that if you haven’t experienced it, it might be impossible to wrap your head around.

          But that’s definitely why you and I see Riley so differently. I admire him for getting out. You can’t understand why he was in in the first place.

          “He put himself first by leaving until he had sorted things out until he was comfortable enough to make a decision.”

          Just curious — do you feel the same way about Buffy’s decision to leave at the end of Season Two? It seems similar to me. I’d guess you’d think that she, also, was selfish by leaving her family and friends while she sorted things out. By contrast, I literally cannot watch Dead Man’s Party, because it is so horrible for me to see everyone blame her so angrily, when she needed so badly to recover from the trauma of killing her first love.

          (I know this is all way too long. Sorry.)

          • Jac

            AO i don’t think you see how harsh your thinking is

            you remind me of Dawkins and Hitchens and their “well it’s so obvious that anyone who doesn’t think that obviously isn’t thinking” argument. which is damaging your point of view.

            i am reminded of something that Joss says in the Restless commentary that goes to AO’s point about Riley as a boyfriend – trust

            KoKoBuffs – favourite name ever

          • AO

            “No offense taken whatsoever. I think this is a fascinating conversation. I know that many people think Riley is boring;

            I’m glad.
            I’m again glad.
            I do think that he’s boring and I’m still wondering how people who like him get past the fact that he doesn’t seem very bright? No offense intended, it’s just such a deal-breaker for me, that I really wonder about it.

            “I’ve never considered whether he isn’t actually living up to being a good boyfriend in Season 4.”

            I’m glad that you’re thinking about it. You may wind up rejecting all that I’ve said, but thanks for considering it.

            “I still disagree with practically everything you’ve said, but I understand why you approach the character the way you do.”

            Thanks again.

            “If you started thinking for yourself before you were 4, then that is awesome emotionally healthy and I’m impressed.”

            Thanks, though I can see the appeal of believing in something greater than yourself. At least occasionally. It’s when someone is doing it to the extent that it seemed like Riley did is when I have a problem.

            “I’m REALLY not trying to talk about religion here, but I was 20 before I realized that my church (and by extension my parents) weren’t always right. (You have just instantly lost respect for me. That’s okay.) “

            Don’t worry about bringing up religion (at least with me). And no to the losing respect. It’s really not my place to judge you. (I have very different standards for fictional characters then I do actual people). And if you figured out that authority figures aren’t always right, then that’s a good thing in my book.

            “It wasn’t because I’m stupid, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t capable of thinking for myself. The trick is that you get — brainwashed is too strong a word — conditioned? — to think that you HAVE thought things through, and YOU are making the decision to ally yourself with this worldview, because YOU have decided that it’s correct and virtuous and fundamentally, objectively morally right.”

            “It’s not that it’s “easier” not to think for yourself. It’s that you sincerely believe in the system, and your own place in it.”

            This sort of thinking is something I can’t at all relate to, but it is interesting to hear, to try to understand where you’re coming from. Thanks for explaining it. 🙂

            “I don’t have a better way to explain it. And I totally understand that if you haven’t experienced it, it might be impossible to wrap your head around.”

            Yeah, I can’t relate, but it does help in the abstract.

            “But that’s definitely why you and I see Riley so differently. I admire him for getting out. You can’t understand why he was in in the first place.”

            Very well put. I think that’s a great description.

            “Just curious — do you feel the same way about Buffy’s decision to leave at the end of Season Two? It seems similar to me. I’d guess you’d think that she, also, was selfish by leaving her family and friends while she sorted things out. “

            Good question. I didn’t like that she left, but the situation was much different there imo. The person that she supposedly loved, Angel, was gone. She wasn’t abandoning him. When Riley left, Buffy was right there. Imo, she needed him and he left. I have personal prejudices against people who leave, or sit on the sidelines, when you need them. I am biased, but that’s why I was sure to mention it up front in my original comment.

            “By contrast, I literally cannot watch Dead Man’s Party, because it is so horrible for me to see everyone blame her so angrily, when she needed so badly to recover from the trauma of killing her first love.”

            Yeah, I don’t care for that Episode myself. I can at least see where they’re coming from, but I didn’t like it either.

            “(I know this is all way too long. Sorry.)”

            Have you read all that I wrote? I’m sure that I’ve gone on far longer. No worries on my end. 🙂

          • AO

            Jac,

            While I wouldn’t use the term “harsh”, I am aware that I’m very strong in this opinion. In almost everything I’m very relativistic, and am inclined to play devil’s advocate in most conversations. But not this. I just feel incredibly strongly about this subject. I’m upfront about it and I don’t expect my feelings to change anyone else’s opinion. I’m just voicing my view, but not trying to impose it on anyone else. And I’ve tried to be completely civil with everyone else I’ve been talking with. If I haven’t then please show me where (and I genuinely mean that) and I’ll apologize.

            What did Joss say in that commentary about trust?

          • KokoBuffs

            “The person that she supposedly loved, Angel, was gone. She wasn’t abandoning him. When Riley left, Buffy was right there. Imo, she needed him and he left. I have personal prejudices against people who leave, or sit on the sidelines, when you need them. I am biased, but that’s why I was sure to mention it up front in my original comment. “

            Dear god, man why won’t you let me sleep, lol! I can do this, I can do this. Short, Twitteresque post:
            Person she supposedly loved was not gone: Joyce, Scoobies, Giles/Surrogate Dad. She left her post, left her friends, left her mom, not-knowing if she was alive lying in a ditch somewhere, for months–Thus, I would say Joyce falls into the category of person who she supposedly loves and needs her–at least a phone call.

            I’d say her friends, being of the non-slaying, superhero variety now being expected to patrol a hellmouth town, count as people who she supposedly loves and need her…

            So by your argument, I’d assume that you’d have just as much anger against Buffy.

            Unless the “prejudice” described above is only towards people who let down the people they are ROMANTICALLY involved with…

            BTW, I love watching “Dead Man’s Party” for the same reasons you and voluntarymanslaughter hate it. Except I’m just a masochist, lol. I never identified with Buffy more than in that confrontation, and it kills me. I’m just a masochist, lol. No, but really, I was always so impressed that they handled it like that, with us knowing what she went through, and them not, and everyone. Here’s where my “personal” takes over…I learned by then that life isn’t about being fair, and demands on you don’t stop even when you are in pain. And so I could feel Buffy’s feeling like trapped, suffocated, and alone. I also learned that in the midst of all my pain, although it felt like, why even bother telling people cause there’s nothing they can do about it… I’m being self-fulfilling prophecy girl. And I can’t always be the one to make that decision in a relationship (friendship). Connecting with my best friends is more than just rescuing them from THEIR problems, but also SHARING mine. I wasa master of give, give, give, but not of myself. There’s something to be said for being vulnerable and giving them the opportunity to engage more deeply, before deciding their limits for them.

            At the end of the day, the truest friends don’t simply want to be rescued, “I just needed you to TALK to me.”–Willow Rosenberg, Dead Man’s Party. Especially since even in your most painful moments, the wheels keep turning for everyone else. It’s not just all about you. It’s a difficult balance, sometimes, one that can only be maintained through communication.

            Basically, they all had valid points in their confrontation Buffy, but it was all attack. Whatever sympathy they may have had for Buffy in having to kill her freaking Boyfriend, was clearly absent replaced by resentment. “Boy troubles?!” Really Xander? Way harsh. However, that scene and the reconciliation scene with Willow at the end was pregnant with the fact that STILL, she hasn’t shared the one thing that could afford her more sympathy and understanding. That she had to kill her newly, re-ensouled, fresh-faced and teary-eyed boyfriend. It told me, this journey’s not over–this is is gonna be an ongoing struggle for this character. How much of that was me personalizing, and how much was SO pregnant in the text, I really can’t say. An instance where******Spoiler: just because I turned out to be right, doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading into the text from my personal experiences ****END spoiler.********

            Just showing that I’m hardly the dispationate clinical observer, myself. 🙂 I may have turned out to be right, but maybe just coincidentally.

          • KokoBuffs

            Ok, so I just wrote that as a train of thought to get that out, and in the midst of going back up to edit and also not overshare, I somehow hit submit?

            Oh well, there’s some thought cut-off at the top there and a whole lot more about me that you probably don’t care about. oh yeah, this is gnite.

          • Chrydtal

            Completely get where you’re coming from and responded the same way about the Riley sitch. My “un-conversion” happened when I was 19, and I grew up in the bible belt. Not an easy thing to go through by any means!

          • Okay, not to beat a dead horse here…

            (Oh, who are we kidding? Definitely beating dead horses all over the place. Browncoats unite in post-mortem equine violence.)

            I re-watched Goodbye Iowa and I’m even more convinced that Riley doesn’t betray Buffy in that ep.

            * They just haven’t been dating that long. They’re at the “I smile when he smiles” phase; they haven’t had sex yet.
            * Riley *does* come rushing over to see if Buffy is all right. When confronted with the idea that Walsh tried to kill Buffy, he leaves to try to get more facts on the situation. (He also feels betrayed by Buffy sheltering Hostile 17.)
            * Riley’s world is rocked by Walsh’s death. Should he have been so susceptible to Forrest’s suggestion that Buffy had something to do with it? Maybe not, but he was rocked with grief.
            * And for everything after that, he is in seriously crazed drug withdrawal. He’s more in need of Buffy taking care of him, which she does.

            I think we can’t underestimate the importance of Walsh’s death to Riley. It would be as though Giles were killed, and someone — Xander perhaps — suggested that perhaps Riley had something to do with it. In that situation, I don’t think I’d judge Buffy too harshly for acting out in her grief.

            (And hey — Buffy has a father figure and Riley has a mother figure! How dense am I to be just now realizing that.)

            That is all I have. The End. 🙂

        • Mel

          I’m obviously coming into this late, and we’re talking about fictional characters and not ‘real’ people here, but I have to say that having read this whole thread, it reads like you’re expecting Riley to never have any doubts about his feelings–I can attest to the fact that doubts occur at all points in a relationship, even the strongest and this wasn’t a particularly strong point–or that you expect him to be completely flawless, which of course no one is. Everyone thinks of themselves first, and Riley ALMOST always (in season 4 anyway) puts Buffy first–so he didn’t do it this time–how many people do you know that are as selfless as he is, generally, this season?

  9. Myles, you have 100% put your finger on why so many of us go, “Ugh! You want to watch Season Four? Really?” And then, once we start watching, it’s all, “OMG, I love this ep!” Why does such a crappy season have so many amazing episodes in it?

    I love The Harsh Light of Day. And Beer Bad (I know I’m in the minority). And The Initiative, and Pangs, and Something Blue! And Hush! And A New Man, and This Year’s Girl, and Who Are You?! And Superstar, OMG, how much do we all ever love Superstar! And a few more after that too.

    But, as you pointed out, the main problem is that the overall story happens so frikkin FAST. Buffy joins the initiative and almost immediately they decide they need to kill her. That could have been a supremely interesting, magic-vs.-science, killing-vs.-research, season-long, big-bad issue. Instead it’s a throwaway. Season Four has a weird, stupid, crappy arc. I generally blame it on the whole adjusting-to-college thing. But the point remains that Season Four just doesn’t WORK as a season, despite how many amazing episodes are in it.

    I am pro-Riley. I understand that lots of people don’t like him, or perhaps think that he’s boring. I still stand by the idea that he is the least dysfunctional of all Buffy’s relationships on the show, and unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make for good TV. But I think he’s a great guy. (Also — he’s not just a competent Xander. He has a bit of superpower, based on his training and the drugs. Buffy obviously can’t be with someone who can’t keep up with her.) (She can kick everyone’s ass, including Angel’s, but they at least have to put up a decent fight.)

    Adam is, unfortunately, incredibly dated — partly because of the television that has happened since. And partly because he has a FLOPPY DRIVE IN HIS CHEST.

    :::Dollhouse spoiler, although I’d be surprised if anyone following all this really hasn’t watched Dollhouse:::

    I thought the USB drives at the end of Season 2 were awesome… and then I thought that in ten years, they’d look just as ridiculous as Adam’s floppy drive.

    • greg

      That makes me laugh (and confused as to how And can put more than one floppy in at a time without taking any out), though not much more than all the Dell desktop computers used on ‘Dollhouse.’ I can barely get mine to access email. I find a lot of “little things” I have to just power through. Buffy being able to fall faster than the demon at the end of ‘Doomed’, for instance. Three writers on that episode, and none of them passed third grade physics? Much like the unrealistic computers in ‘I Robot, You Jane’ or the odd lack of cell phones, or even the inconsistent use of magick, it’s just something you have to intentionally turn a blind eye to, or it’ll drive you nuts.

      • morda898

        “inconsistent use of magick”

        For instance?

        I’m not implying that the magic is flawless continuity wise but I can’t really think of any scene where the magic is glaringly uncharacteristic. And I’m a bit of a fantasy whore so I tend to notice things like that more than most people.

      • Eldritch

        …can put more than one floppy in at a time without taking any out…”

        Tis a problem. But I just assumed they were running long and cut his removing the 1st floppy out for time. Seeing him eject it wouldn’t add anything to the plot. (though it kinda makes you wonder how many floppies his chest can hold!)

        • diane

          Ever use one of those CD changers that has a single slot but stores a stack of CDs internally? Isn’t it fun to eject a disc out of the middle of the stack? Isn’t it fun trying to remember what’s on each disc in a stack that’s completely hidden from view?

          Alternatively, we can assume that Adam’s floppy drive is happily munching whatever is stored in it, so that it’s always ready for more. Retrieval is futile.

      • lyvvie

        Oh my goodness yes on that ‘Doomed’ scene. The wire/string that Riley pulls Buffy up on really bugs me as well, his hands would be cut to pieces!

    • Jason

      I have an affinity for Cronenberg, so maybe that explains why I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing Adam. A campy floppy-disc drive in the chest ain’t nothing. 🙂

    • Eldritch

      “I thought the USB drives at the end of Season 2 were awesome… and then I thought that in ten years, they’d look just as ridiculous as Adam’s floppy drive.”

      I well remember when 3½” floppies were high tech! They made the 5¼” floppies look old and clumsy. But then I remember when a Selectric typewriter was cool tech.

      • Susan

        Man, I loved typing on a Selectric. Such a satisfying clunking sound with each keystroke! And the whole desk vibrated when it was on.

  10. morda898

    Myles, is there a particular reason you hate Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It’s one dis after another with you!!!

    I’m totally kidding.

    You have every right to find complaints with the series at this point (And at this point on Angel) since narratively this is probably where both shows are at their absolute weakest. The last two discs of seasons four (And one) are truly awesome though; The Two Parter, Superstar, New Moon Rising, Primeval, and of course, the mother of all episodes – Restless.

    How come you really liked that scene in Goodbye Iowa between our two resident witches? I’m not implying that it’s a bad scene I’m just curious as to why you personally thought it was great?

    As for Riley. Fans tend to think he’s “horrible” because he’s boring as opposed to a total bastard. Although I honestly just think people are comparing him too much to Angel which isn’t fair when you think about it. I actually like riley and I do feel really sorry for him as his story arc progresses.

    • AO

      “Although I honestly just think people are comparing him too much to Angel”

      Not me. Each of these guys are their own person, with their own faults. I definitely agree that they should be looked at independently.

    • What I like about the scene between Tara and Willow is that it uses their rituals to communicate their negotiation of friendship: just as “Hush” demonstrated how words could get in the way, so too does that moment suggest that they remain at different places in terms of their comfort with particular spells, either because Tara is afraid of Willow hurting herself or simply because she’s afraid of being hurt herself.

      And so what’s just a basic setback for Willow is something more for Tara, a nice bit of shading as they move forward.

      • Susan

        I’m glad you liked that little scene, Myles. Remember it.

        • morda898

          Yeah I’d give that advise as well Myles. Remember that scene.

        • Eldritch

          Yeah. Remember this scene.

          • Jason

            I think he’s going to remember, lol. I also think people constantly telling him to remember scenes isn’t advantageous.

          • skittledog

            I actually can’t remember *why* it’s important for him to remember… um. Bad fan.

          • Eldritch

            “I actually can’t remember *why* it’s important..”

            Something will happen later that relates to this scene. But I guess that really doesn’t answer your question!

          • skittledog

            Heh. No, not so much. But hopefully, now Myles has had it drilled into him that he needs to remember, he’ll pick up on it and mention it and remind me… 😉

      • Eldritch

        “…either because Tara is afraid of Willow hurting herself or simply because she’s afraid of being hurt herself…”

        Interesting interpretation. I had a different one when I first viewed this episode.

        She deliberately and surreptitiously sabotaged the spell. Only someone evil would do that.

        How many times over the course of “Buffy” had a good person become bad or a person who seemed good was actually evil, and vice versa. Remember the nice man who sold Halloween costumes? Or how nice Angel used to be?

        Sure, Tara seems nice, but what’s lurking behind that facade?

  11. James

    BSG’s characters being slaves to the plot? Sorry, that feat belong solely to Lost.

    As for Riley, I think reception to him was/is largely negative due in part to coming off the angst riddled Buffy/Angel epic (lol) and it being followed up by a ‘normal’ relationship with Marc Blucas being totally bland and whose character is tied to arguably the worst part of the season.

    For me at least he was never distracting enough to take away from the show so I don’t really mind him.

    • I actually have a lot similar complaints between BSG and Lost. But that’s not what this catchup project is about, so I’ll save it for somewhere else. 🙂

  12. Gill

    I agree with you about Adam and Maggie – you really nail the problems with the two of them. Essentially, in a character-driven show, they they lack dimensions beyond those needed as plot devices, and it shows.

    If I remember rightly, the buzz at the time was that Lindsay Crouse had another commitment which meant she had to leave suddenly, with very little warning; she had been intended to be the season’s Big Bad, which would have worked much better in almost every respect. She has a few good lines – I love her interviews with Buffy and Giles in which she makes some very valid points – but mostly, though well-acted, there’s no real substance to her. (She reminds me quite a bit of Sue in Glee for some reason.)

    S4 has many of my favourite episodes, with several still to come, but the lack of a coherent central narrative arc really does weaken it.

    Another interesting detail – Marsters was uncomfortable with the clowning he was asked to do at this point, and hated the clothes he was expected to wear in Doomed, particularly Xander’s shorts. Halfway through the episode, with no explanation, we see he’s in blue jeans, not the shorts, which we never see again. He has said more than once that he was very nearly fired for this insubordination. He is wonderfully comic in this episode, though – when he tries to stake himself and when he tries to persuade the Scoobies to go fight evil.

    A New Man is another wonderful episode, bringing together character and theme beautifully in ways that will resonate.

    I’m still loving your take on the show and it’s such fun to see it from a fresh perspective. It makes me want to spend the summer rewatching again!

    • Professor Walsh as the Big Bad? Regardless of whether or not that was the plan, that would have been AWESOME!!!!

      The themes would have been explored so much better — the development of her arc, from totally-admired-professor to creator of evil — not having to suddenly care about Adam and his existential crises —

      That would have been way cool.

  13. Interesting that you feel the season is falling apart now; personally, I felt this was when the season finally started to have a point. I consider season 4 the weakest of the seasons because in the first half, there is nothing driving the show forward. It felt to me like after breaking the high school status quo, the writers hadn’t worked out yet what they were going to do next so they just tried to pass the time aimlessly with very lightweight storylines. With Walsh’s death and the emergence of an actual villain, the season finally gets some momentum going, and maintains it up to the end of the Initiative arc.

    • Personally I feel the season has solid momentum in the first half, but that momentum is largely driven by the characters and their arcs, which isn’t a bad thing imo.

      • It’s not like the character arcs have any more momentum than the plot. Giles and Xander are feeling left out, Spike has lost all his ability to do anything but sit around and mope. And Buffy herself is just adjusting to college life, having trouble with small-time vampires (even though she could previously kill such villains in her sleep) just to create a false sense of conflict. These are not riveting storylines. And Tara is a one-dimensional character, so that romance isn’t exactly appealing either. I like a good character-driven show as much as the next guy, but these arcs aren’t up to the standard of the prior two seasons.

        • I respectfully disagree. There’s more going on that what you’ve stated here (e.g. excellent Willow development) and there’s some good nuance in what is going on with Buffy, Giles, and Xander. Yeah, Spike’s played largely for comedy during this part of the season, but he adds quite a bit of fun even if he isn’t thoroughly developed until next season. Since we’re talking strictly first half of the season here, yeah, there isn’t much to Tara yet — she’d been in a whopping 1 episode. No, she won’t be the most developed character (then again, neither was Oz), but she does eventually become a three-dimensional character.

  14. skittledog

    Having only discovered this project this week (tu tut, me), I’ve been reading my way back through all your earlier Buffy reviews and finding that I agree with 90% or more of what you’re saying. But what’s nice is that you’re managing to compartmentalise your reactions much better than I ever can, and explain why things aren’t working rather than just my gut instinct of ‘ugh, that episode was meaningless.’

    This stretch is a good example – I always feel like nothing is happening, plot-wise, but it’s really because too much is happening and none of it is carrying any weight. Plot twists are introduced just to be unwound and redesigned two or three episodes later – the only plot that really sticks, I think, is Spike’s chip. Which is obviously a good one, but there should have been more done with the Initiative as a whole and with the themes of this season, which sort of circle around having to make adult decisions on your own, and wanting to have faith in adults but not being able to any more… but then they go off and get tangled up in monsters with floppy disc drives and forget about having any real meaning.

    I always think I dislike Riley until I rewatch, and then I remember that he’s just more of a non-entity for me. A pretty and sometimes amusing non-entity, but never particularly engaging. That still makes him better than the similar characters introduced into the Scooby Gang in seasons 5 and 7, though…

    I watched Buffy before I watched BSG, and Adam was still very uninteresting. He barely even asks those deeper questions, let alone trying to provide any answers to them. I always find it funny that the only Adam scene I like is (as vague a spoiler as I can make it) the one with the discussion of the pillow fort…

  15. diane

    I see I’ve missed a lot of discussion already!

    My take is that on rewatching, The “I” in Team and Goodbye Iowa function as a two-parter, serving much the same role for Riley that Becoming did for Buffy personally: these episodes tear apart Riley’s support system and world-view, and leave him on his own to face a world that has turned upside down.

    Up to this point, Riley has been good for Buffy, a strong, independent, and reasonably mature person. But these episodes have changed him, and that change inevitably affects his relationship with Buffy. It’s a subtle thing, at first.

    It’s a subject to return to after later episodes.

  16. lawrence

    I have to be careful here because I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’re picking up on a lot of things here that will be relevant and even critical later on.

    And when you get to Restless, I’ll have a lot more to say about that particular episode and its significance in its season, but I will say this about season 4 in general: It’s the midpoint of the series, or rather it would be had season 1 been 22 episodes, and it really serves as the bridge between seasons 1-3 and 5-7. And taken in that context, it really does work.

  17. Karen

    I have to say I most agree with Susan’s viewpoints. Despite loving so many individual episodes, S4 is my least favorite as a season , except for maybe S1.

    Those who have commented about the need to address themes and issues regarding the Initiative are correct. One other thought I’ve had (that relates also to the dislike of Riley as a character by so many) is that the season actually has a plethora of riches to work with, and the writers are a bit chained to the focus on an arc and a Big Bad, and hence are a bit (only a bit) out-of-sync with the viewers who are finding much more of interest in the very rich characters and relationships… especially Tara, Anya, and Spike as they integrate with the Scoobies. (and not so much Riley, in comparison)

    I’m not sure what the *fix* would be, as a greater focus on the themes some find lacking would probably cost in character facetime and development?

  18. jules

    Just had to comment on Buffy’s scarf–that was, in fact, a fashion trend at the time. I can remember buying and wearing them myself.

    • Jac

      the scarf was fine compared to the awful black cowboy hat in Pangs ( the thanksgiving episode ) that was thank goodness never seen again

      season 4 is definately my least favourite in terms of Buffys fashion choices especially when compared to S5

  19. Okay, I know we’ve hashed out practically everything about these eps, but I went back tonight and started re-watching (starting with The I in Team). This is completely and entirely AO’s fault, because I want to try to watch through his (?) perspective and see if that gives me a different take on Riley.

    And I just have to say, holy crap, these episodes are SO MUCH FUN!!!!

    We can (and do) bitch about the season arc, and we can (and do) get into vigorous debates about all the thematic meanings — but wow, it has been a while since I’ve watched the back half of B4. And I kinda remembered it all as blah and boring and Adam is lame. It is sooooo not boring.

    “C’mon, somebody bet already, I’ve got three K cards.”

    “Yes, we’ve enjoyed spanking.”

    “Yeah. Except the Anya part. And the poker part.”

    [With the best delivery ever] “Everyone’s getting spanked but me.”

    “You said it was big. You told me — but you never said it was huge!” “Don’t like to brag.” [how did they get away with that?]

    And that’s just in the first ten minutes.

    Let’s argue as much as we want about the thematic, academic crap. But these are very funny, very well-written eps, and criticism is still less important to me than pure enjoyment. And I thoroughly enjoyed rewatching these eps.

    (Sorry Myles!)

    • I know precisely what you mean. I *love* Anya’s spanking line and Xander’s reaction. Part of the magic of Buffy as a show is how it blends being just plain FUN to watch each and every time with genuine intelligence and character work behind it. It’s a truly sublime blend which makes re-watching it an utter joy each and every time. Sometimes in all this analysis we take for granted certain things — like how awesome the actors are (particularly Gellar, Hannigan, and Marsters) and how hilarious, witty, and inventive the show is episode-to-episode.

    • AO

      Yes, I am a his (or him).

      “I want to try to watch through his (?) perspective and see if that gives me a different take on Riley.”

      That’s flattering, thank you. I’d definitely be curious to hear what you think.

      I guess there might be funny bits in S4, perhaps if I could get past my blind and irrational hatred and contempt then I could actually find something to like about S4? Hmmm.

  20. Eldritch

    “the scarf was fine compared to the awful black cowboy hat in Pangs … that was thank goodness never seen again…”

    I have sort of the reverse fashion complaint. I thought they dressed too well. The actresses principally. The further into the series, the more stylish and more expensive their wardrobes got. They wore one fabulous ensemble after another, and never the same one twice …… which seemed quite a trick for struggling college students on a budget. That struck me more and more unrealistic.

    I realize high fashion seems to be de rigueur for for actresses on almost any show. For example, the lady cop on “Castle” quickly upgraded from a normal detective’s wardrobe to expensive fashions pretty quickly. But I like “Buffy” so much that it was distracting.

    Also, hair and make up. There didn’t seem to be a thing Buffy or Willow could do, from sleeping to showering, that didn’t require them to wear color coordinated eye shadow.

    And perhaps my biggest pet peeve of all: high heels. Buffy wore high heels seemingly all the time. I’ve never worn high heels, but if Gellar’s performance is any measure, it must be hard to run in them. No matter who’s chasing her or how fast she’s got to run, she goes clump, clump, clump. Kind of silly looking I thought for a professional warrior.

    • Susan

      Not at all a fashionista in the real world, I’ve always been quite interested in the way the characters on Buffy are costumed. On one of the season’s special features, there’s one specifically about it, and especially Buffy’s wardrobe is high fashion. I, too, have thought it seems a bit incongruous to the decided middle-classness of the character that she’s decked out in Prada, D&G, Gucci, etc.

      That said, I think it’s interesting how well, for the most part, the fashions have resisted becoming dated over the past 7-13 years. With a few exceptions (Buffy’s pants seem ridiculously short in early seasons, e.g.), it all feels pretty current, if not exactly what most teens are wearing to school.

      I was really glad when she stopped wearing the ultra-minis, btw.

      Her shoes are an interesting choice for slayage, to be sure. As the series progresses, she spends a lot more time in boots, which make more sense, though they are still usually (not always) high heeled. There are several little continuity glitches where you can see that SMG is actually wearing running shoes during more vigorous scenes, when her shoes are supposed to be out of frame. I noticed one last night when I was watching S5 “Intervention.”

      There are a couple of good moments over the seasons in which Buffy addresses her unlikely wardrobe choices (in “The I in Team,” e.g.), so I’ve decided to interpret the halters, leather, and high heels as a Buffy rebellion against the demands of her destiny. Slaying is brutal, but one need not *look* beastly if one can get off a good flying kick in stilettos.

      On the guy front, most of us probably know that Angel and Spike’s leather jackets are $1000+ designer coats (Hugo Boss and Gucci, respectively, I believe), and they, like, ran Spike’s over with a car or something to get the weather-beaten look.

  21. AO

    “Numerous times this weekend I thought “I should watch Burn Notice and Royal Pains.” Numerous times, I put on Buffy/Angel instead.”

    If you think this is bad Myles, wait until you get to S5/S2. 🙂

    Really, you should plan for it now. Here’s my proposal for a 6-day plan:

    -Day 1. Shop for groceries, pay bills, post about any other shows that you need to catch up on.

    -Day 2. Watch 7 Episodes of Buffy and 7 Episodes of Angel. Write about all 14 Episodes. Sleep.

    -Day 3. Watch 8 Episodes of Buffy and 8 Episodes of Angel. Write about all 16 Episodes. Give up sleeping and go back to watching.

    -Day 4. Wake up after having passed out at an indeterminate time. Make breakfast, turn on TV and promise yourself that you’re only watching “for a little while”. Finish S5/S2 and wonder why it’s dark already. Look at time. Shake head. Go to sleep.

    -Day 5. Begin thinking about all of the Episode reviews that you’re now behind on. Formulate plan. Begin writing. Take nap. Wake up. Write some more. Go to sleep.

    -Day 6. Wake up and continue writing. Finish writing. Vow to catch up on life and other shows. Wonder why you keep looking at DVD player wistfully.

    Repeat. 🙂 You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

    • Susan

      LOL! So true!

    • Tyler

      Yeah, it’s like that. Buffy S.5 especially, imo. Once you’re on the ride, you can’t get off till it stops… 🙂

    • skittledog

      Only one small problem to point out with the above: no fricking way would you be able to stop at the end of 5×15, given its final scene.

      But I generally agree with the thrust of the argument. I personally never managed the art of stopping at the ends of seasons, and on one memorable beautiful summer Saturday I spent the entire day inside running from Angel 3.07 to 4.02. Yeah… 18 episodes in a row. My friend who was mentoring me through the series nearly killed me for that (because unsurprisingly one’s take on 3.07 is a bit different when looking back to it from season 4, and she’d wanted to hear my initial impressions…)

    • Karen

      LOL. A hint of true obsession…..

  22. Tausif Khan

    Whedon and company are known for closing up plot wholes and tying loose threads after the basics have been established. So I think you will be satisfied. I wonder if you notice any Deus ex machina being used in either Angel or Buffy.

    I can’t wait for your review of “restless”

  23. tjbw

    Myles wrote:

    “…and that Buffy enters and then exits the Initiative at such a breakneck pace that it leaves all sorts of potential on the table…”

    Two things. First, the Slayer Prophecy:

    In every generation there is a Chosen One. She ALONE will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.

    Granted, Buffy has the Scoobies, but…

    And second, how is Buffy’s short time with the Initiative any different from Kendra’s short time on the show, Buffy’s short time with Angel, Xander’s short time with Cordelia, or Giles’ short time with Ms. Calendar? Buffy’s sudden separation from the Initiative is a Wash moment.

    What, because Buffy doesn’t smooch the Initiative, you missed that?

    Whedon and company are the destroyers of all things comfortable, storylines included. One would do well to never ever forget this.

    • Eldritch

      “She ALONE will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”

      Ahem.

      She and Kendra and Faith.

      • Eldritch

        Well, I guess I’m trying to say that the series tried to establish that what’s special about Buffy is, that despite the legend, she’s not alone. Kendra and Faith are cautionary tales of alternative ways Buffy could have turned out had she fought alone. But her strength is her social connections, especially including the Scoobies. Was it not Xander who saved her from death at the end of season one? Had her support system not saved her, Seasons two through seven would have been called “Kendra, the Vampire Slayer,” and been nowhere as much fun.

        Had the Initiative not been as flawed as it was, the world could have benefited from their joining forces.

        As for other Buffy’s short time with the Initiative comparing to other short lived things, she was inducted and nearly assassinated in the same episode. That’s pretty fast. Even Giles had Calendar for longer than a single episode.

    • I have to agree with Eldritch. I think B4’s arc would have been much better if Buffy (and Riley) had had a few episodes in the Initiative, becoming more and more uncomfortable with how they do things and what their ulterior motives might be. For a “magic vs. science” season, being inducted and then being attemptedly* assassinated in the same ep is just too fast.

      *Did I just make up a new word? If so I like it.

      • KokoBuffs

        Hey, I made up the word “dispationate” in an earlier post… Ok, fine, no credit for that one. My stream of consciousness apparently just can’t spell. But I still thought it was kinda sexy. I even looked it up in the dictionary to see if I could get some kinda validation…but no. Not even a “dispate.” “Disputes,” “despots” and “dispositions” aplenty, but sadly…
        Oh well, my brain just has a mind of it’s own. 🙂

  24. Aeryl

    One thing that I think helps when transitioning from the high school seasons, to the ones beyond it, is that the the “Big Bad” really isn’t the premiere villian of the season anymore.

    In high school, that kind of simplicity was to be expected, even called for. The enemy isn’t really the demon that’s threatening to destroy the world, it’s the lesson our protagonists must learn to defeat the villian.

    Season One-The Master represents fear, Buffy and the Scoobies must overcome this fear.

    Season Two-Angelus represents love, Buffy and the Scoobies have to learn to love and let go.

    Season Three-The Mayor represents authority, and fitting for their senior year, Buffy and the Scoobies must learn to question and resist authority as they graduate.

    And as Buffy & Co graduated, so have the writers, so the villians are never so cut and dry anymore. The trick now is discovering the internal group dynamic that is imperiling the Scoobies, and defeating it, and that dynamic isn’t as clearly spelled out as it has been earlier seasons, by being clearly reflected by that season’s villian, though Adam’s search for an identity is somewhat parallel to Scoobies story.

    All of the primary antagonists are weaker characters than they’ve ever been previously, though some are a lot of fun, and I think that’s intentional, b/c as cool as villians are, they really don’t compare to the dangers within. And those dangers are the focus from here on out. This will become more apparent after “Restless”, and Season 6 will be pretty blatant about it.

    • KokoBuffs

      Me likey.

      • Susan

        Me too. Wonderful way to think of our beloved Big Bad construction.

        But to clarify:

        “All of the primary antagonists are weaker characters than they’ve ever been previously.”

        You mean weaker existentially, of course. Not physically. Yes?

        • skittledog

          I actually think that the physically stronger the Big Bads are, the less effective they tend to be as anything other than a plot device. The Mayor is the weakest Big Bad, pre-ascension, and possibly the best. Buffy could take either Angel or Spike in a fight. That somehow makes the fighting of them more personal, in that Buffy ought to be able to defeat them, but cannot for various pesky personal reasons (love for Angel, Faith getting in the way, etc). From s4 onwards, the Big Bads are just so Big and so Bad that nobody in their right mind would expect Buffy & co to be able to deal with them. (The one exception being the first half of season 6, which I also feel works well.) I absolutely agree that this goes hand in hand with focusing more on the Scoobies, because those ‘impossible’ struggles bring out their character, but I find it a little bit of a loss that it turns from ‘if you can face yourself, you can face the world’ to ‘no matter how strong you become, the world will find something worse to throw at you.’

          Also, maybe it’s just a me thing, but the more supposedly invincible the antagonists became, the less personality they seemed to have, and the more they bored me. Seasons 5 and 7 in particular.

          • Susan

            I agree that the more physical strength they have the less developed they are as characters over the course of each season.

            Yet, I think the Big Bads in S5 and S7 (and even S6, no matter how you construe that Bad) are really interesting. Sure, they’re interesting mainly in the ways in which they serve as catalysts for the development of Buffy, et al. and their interpersonal relationships. But as catalysts, they rock.

            The Mayor is my fave Bad of all, though, definitely.

          • skittledog

            S5 and 6, I would agree. S7… well, I felt it had so much potential (hah, oops) when it was more of an existential and mental threat. And it was a more interesting catalyst then, too. CWDP was amazing, from that standpoint, and Sleeper was a good example of using mental strength to exploit weakness too. And then… it seemed like the writers decided a final season Big Bad needed physical implacability too, and some very boring plot devices were born and took over the rest of the fighting, leaving the actual big bad with nothing to do…

        • Aeryl

          Weaker as characters. They are all interesting and captivating in their own ways. But they aren’t as strong of characters as Angel and The Mayor were(the Master was pretty boring, IMO)

          • Becker

            I personally thought the Master had a good personality, he was just trapped in his cave for the season.

  25. Red

    I watched Caprica and am watching BSG now and listening to the podcast commentary. Since Buffy’s the strong female character who’s the predecessor to Boomer, Starbuck, Roslin, et al, It has been interesting to watch BSG with Buffy on the mind. Will likely rewatch Buffy later on and compare to BSG. Will keep the issue of Adam/Riley/Centurion/Cylon in mind.

  26. Vincent

    What I liked about season 4 is the contrast/clash between the romantic and empirical world views. There is a great scene from one of the episodes in the arc you discuss (I forget which) where they inter-cut between the scoobie gang trying to figure out, through hitting the books, the specific myths, motives and desires of the demons as a means of finding it, whilst Maggie Walsh and co., discuss its behavioural patterns and environmental markers.

    This clash of approaches is enacted, humorously, in the interchange between Buffy and Maggie at the briefing about capturing the Polgara demon (the I in team). Whilst Maggie talks serial numbers, protein markers and capture strategies, Buffy asks the obviously previously unheard question: “what does it want?”, to the general bemusement of all.

    This question of desire is, of course, as irrelevant to a behaviourist as it is crucial to a psychoanalyst or any other depth psychologist, and it is with these latter day romantics that the Scoobie gang are firmly aligned. For me it is this that makes the Buffy Riley arc interesting, the two traditions getting into bed, and also what makes Adam an intriguing, if rather goofy looking, bad guy. For the behaviourist blind to desire, being a conglomeration of parts is not a problem; however as subject, the creature composed by and of the desires of others inevitably has to ask the question of its own desire, the question of all golems – beyond the desire of my makers, what do I want? In fact we see Riley beginning to ask the same question; and we see Spike go through the trajectory in reverse, with his natural desires repeatedly thwarted, he…well watch his arc over the next few seasons.

    In short, I thought series 4 was one of the more thematically rich series, precisely because of the playing out of this comic/tragic collision of mythos and logos, probably most pithily expressed in the first and last word that the creature should say to its behaviourist maker: “mommy”

  27. Bob Kat

    skittledog; Well I figure in the Wishverse when BizarroThe Master killed BizarroBuffy, Kendra and Faith were by then too old to be called so yeah Kennedy might be the most worthy girl in the age range :-).

  28. Becker

    Just a quick note as I am not home as I have no internet there. I have no idea when I’ll get on again if anyone replies to this.

    The sections on Maggie and Adam basically sum up; to me why this season ranks at #5 of 7 for the series. The first half of the season, the villain is vague and then the second half it is Adam. The problem with Adam and the Initiative as villains, especially in comparison to the previous seasons is that there is no emotional connection there. When it was just the Initiative/pre-Adam, they weren’t that much of a villain anyway, but as an organization (beyond the Riley relationship) the military isn’t emotional. Then with Adam, you are dealing with a villain who incapable of emotion. She definitely had one with Angelus, and also with Faith. The Master, Spike, Dru and the Mayor all had actual personalities and also had some actual connection emotionally with Buffy in one way or the other before their arcs as villain were done. Adam did not. I felt that lack.

    Some people tend to point out how this was a really good season (and other later seasons were also) but that the show fell flat on plot while succeeding with character. I felt that the earlier seasons did both. As such, it is impossible for me to elevate a season that doesn’t do one major aspect well to the level of or above the level of the seasons that succeeded in both plot and character. If I was in school and handed in a paper about something and nailed the points, but the grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. were horrible, there is no way that I would deserve an A or possibly even a good grade, regardless of the content as those failing elements are also important and cannot and should not be ignored.

    Other random note no one else will care about, the Polgara demon was named (by Fury) after a Bronzer (and very good friend of mine) who used to post as….Polgara. Shocking, eh? 😉

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